The Royal Palm was built in 1939 as a four-story resort and expanded to seven stories two years later. The original Art Deco structure was owned by Russian immigrant developers Joe Rose and Nat Hankoff, and is one among the hundreds of hotels, apartments, and other structures erected in Miami Beach between 1923 and 1943, which now comprise the famed South Beach Art Deco District.
During World War II in February 1942, enlisted men and officer candidates began to arrive in Miami Beach for military training. Resort hotels became mess halls, bachelor officers’ quarters and crowded army barracks over the course of the following years. Ultimately, 300 hotels and apartment buildings became military facilities in service to nearly one half million US Army trainees during the war, with such notables as Clark Gable, Hank Greenberg, and Franklin Roosevelt, Jr. included in their numbers.
The late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s were the economic boom years America experienced after the end of World War II in 1945. These years were marked by the return home, and reincorporation into civilian life, of millions and millions of GIs. Miami Beach had its heydays during the glamorous 1950s and early 1960s [Sinatra, Elvis, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Gleason, The Beatles were all in town]. Lincoln Road was the high-end glamorous shopping destination in Miami, including its own Saks Fifth Avenue store! (at Lincoln & Euclid)
After that fabulous period, the 1970s and 1980s saw a sharp decline in tourism as competition from newer destinations and relatively inexpensive international travel came into play. The temporary perception of Miami as a crime-infested area due to illegal drug traffic and refugee crisis also played a role in this decline. This period of time was best exemplified by the hit television series named “Miami Vice”. By the end of the 1970s and 1980s, the Royal Palm had become one more of the dozens of dilapidated and neglected Miami Beach hotels, populated largely by refugees from the Caribbean, and low-income elderly retirees.
In the late 1970’s a local grassroots movement lead by Barbara Capitman founded the Miami Design Preservation League, a non-profit organization devoted to preserving, and promoting the cultural and architectural integrity of the Miami Beach Architectural Historic District. This organization raised public awareness and lobbied City Hall to extend protection to all historic structures. Ms. Capitman’s group is credited with saving from the wrecking ball over 200 hotels and buildings; all representative examples of the Art Deco and MIMO styles!
Ironically the same Miami Vice television show of the late 1980’s which conveyed a troubled image of Miami, also served to create an interest around the world in Miami’s pastel-colored Art Deco hotels, beautiful tropical beaches, and fast-paced Latin flavor.
In 1995 the original Royal Palm and the adjoining Shorecrest hotel (built in 1940), both in run down condition, were purchased by the City of Miami Beach in order to preserve them for future renovation, once a private developer could be found.
The very next year, 1996, the two properties were sold by the City of Miami Beach to African-American developer R. Donahue Peebles. The original Royal Palm building was torn down in late 1990s due to its unsafe concrete frame, and its front half rebuilt by architect Donald G. Smith as an exact duplicate of the 1939 original. Next door, the front half of the Shorecrest was fully restored, while its rear half had to be demolished to make way for the expansion plans.
From 1998-2002 Mr. Peebles and his company rebuilt and expand the Royal Palm. The expansion included the construction of two brand new modern high-rise towers; the first one located right behind the original front-half of the Shorecrest hotel and the second one directly behind the front half of the Royal Palm itself; thus creating a multi-structure hotel complex of almost 400 rooms. The reopening in 2002 also made history as the first ever black-owned hotel in Miami Beach.
By 2004 The Falors Cos.(Guy Mitchell & Robert Falors) purchased the property from Mr. Peebles and continued its hospitality operation, however, a combination of a looming economic crisis and less than perfect management decisions drove the property into financial troubles toward the end of the decade.
In 2011, the hotel was acquired by KSL Capital Partners with plans to fully renovate the facilities and contract its operation to Denihan Hospitality Group. The property was branded and relaunched as The James in November of 2012, following a $42 million renovation.
The fresh new concept delivers a luxury ocean-front boutique hotel with modern, residentially styled and guest-centric services. Its enhanced design elements pay homage to the Art Deco roots of the original first building.
Denihan Hospitality Group manages 14 hotels, half of which, it owns. The James Royal Palm is the third James property. Until now, only two carried The James brand: The 297-room hotel in Chicago that opened in 2006, and the 114-room hotel that opened in 2010 in Soho. The brand is known for featuring the work of local renowned artists in its hotels. The overhaul of the hotel’s rooms is taking place under the guidance of acclaimed interior designer Lauren Rottet.